Policy & Systemic
Curriculum &
Assessment &
Partnerships &
Equity & Diversity
Informal Education
& Outreach

Equity and Diversity

To ensure the nation of a science-literate citizenry able to make informed and reasoned decisions on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as to preserve its global leadership in science, all students require a good education in Earth and space science before graduating from high school. There are, however, wide disparities today in the quality of available Earth and space science education.

There are many reasons for this inequity. School systems in economically disadvantaged communities may lack the resources to hire skilled Earth and space science teachers. They also may be unable to provide adequate Web access, books, and other tools and resources that broaden and deepen Earth and space science education. Students in minority groups based on race, ethnicity or gender lack role models in the scientific community.

For many minorities, be they ethnic, physically challenged or gender, the community itself does not nurture an awareness that they can aspire to a career in science. Peer pressure, however subtle, negates individual thinking that may assist a minority student from breaking out of the mold. Opportunities for students to participate in hands-on, inquiry-based science activities, including authentic research, can help students envisage themselves as scientists.

Teachers, and not only science teachers, sometimes fail to address various ways of thinking and problem solving that are part of different cultural backgrounds. Many teachers are unaware that there are other cognitive processes that are as successful as the Western model. If teachers were better able to communicate with students in their own form of understanding, there would be many more successful students.

Our vision of the state of Earth and space science education ten years from now may seem optimistic, but with the proposed recommendations in place, both short term and long terms goals can be realistically met if we act now. We foresee fair accessibility to Earth and space science education for all students by the year 2010.

Key components of this vision are:

  • availability of instruction that reflects cultural perspectives related to Earth and space science within the classroom population
  • the presence of qualified and diverse Earth and space science teachers within schools that serve target populations
  • an abundance of visible role models within media and schools
  • adequate infrastructure and resources for Earth and space science education within schools that serve under-represented groups (e.g. laboratory equipment, technology resources, access to field sites)
  • flexible and responsive criteria for institutions to access funds earmarked for equity and diversity projects.

To reach this vision, there are barriers in our educational structures that must be overcome. A major one is the inequitable access among schools to laboratory equipment and technology due to limited funding resources. Some schools fail to provide access for students with physical disabilities. Moreover, quality teachers are not equitably distributed in our school systems. There are social barriers as well. Our under-represented groups in the Earth and space science profession are stretched too thin to be effective as role models to all but a few.

Emotional barriers to achieving our goals include science phobia among certain groups and the tracking of many minority students into lower-achieving classes or curricula. Such barriers occur in the classroom and are known as the "Pygmalion effect"; this produces inequality of education when an instructor's preconceived notions of who is successful in science are made apparent to the students. Barriers exist for the quality Earth and space science teachers as well. Many are not aware of the resources available to them and their students; there exist resources now that are specifically aimed at correcting the inequalities of science education in our diverse society.

Certainly these problems of equity and diversity have been explored in depth in numerous studies and reports, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) Report on Diversity in Geoscience (1999). There also have been several important initiatives to promote diversity in science education in general and/or Earth and space science in particular, such as the NSF Urban Systemic Initiatives, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Diversity Session (EOS Transactions 2000), AGI Minority Participation Project and the EPA Watershed Manual and curriculum for native American tribes, and teacher training in overcoming gender issues in the sciences. Our recommendations build on insights gained from these and other research and implementation projects.

Equity and Diversity Recommendations

  1. Federal and state funding agencies should support professional development and teacher preparation in equity and diversity issues related to Earth and space science education.
    These should include local and regional cultural approaches to science, to the Earth and to problem solving. These efforts should be in concert with initiatives detailed in the Professional Development section of this report.

  2. The diversity and quality of K-12 Earth and space science educators should be increased.
    Potential Earth and space science teachers from under-represented groups should be identified and retained through "bridge" projects that follow students from high school through baccalaureate degree. Professional societies should establish documentation on the qualifications and diversity of Earth and space science teachers, and set benchmarks for improvement. Education institutions serving under-represented populations should be encouraged to, and assisted in, establishing and maintaining educational programs in the Earth and space science, including teacher certification.

  3. A community of Earth and space science educators interested in equity and diversity should be established and maintained.
    The diversity working group within the Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE) and special sessions on equity and diversity during Earth and space science professional society meetings will establish the nexus of the group. The community should ensure broad membership through robust outreach to all potential stakeholders, such as the National Association of Black Geologists and Geophysicists, National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, Society for Advancement of Chicano and Native American Scientists, and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

  4. Exemplary materials focusing on place-based (e.g. urban) connections to Earth and space science should be developed and disseminated.
    Earth and space science can be wrongly perceived as a field of study more appropriate for students in areas close to natural environments than for urban students. This is certainly not the case, as all regions, especially urban areas, are closely connected to the natural environment. For example, the characteristics of the land under and around cities are critically important for defining and shaping them. Major construction projects in urban areas call for deep understanding of the underlying bedrock. Cities are often located near rivers, and have to struggle with issues of water supply, water quality and waste management. Therefore we recommend development of exemplary, inquiry-based materials that feature the connection of Earth and space science to urban environments. This will help make Earth and space science more relevant, engaging and interesting to students in urban schools who often are from minority and under-represented groups.

  5. Research on Earth and space science equity and diversity programs and on differing cultural perspectives in Earth and space science should be compiled and future research needs identified.
    This is an immediate need that will inform longer-term efforts. NSF should sponsor a review project in conjunction with the Diversity Initiative in Geoscience Education project. New equity and diversity projects should conduct appropriate project evaluation and disseminate results in order to inform other practitioners.

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